Sorry for getting these reviews out late today. Spent my morning up in the Cow Palace at the Dickens' Fair. If you've never been, this is a fantastic, all-ages event that harkens back to the Victorian England within the novels of Charles Dickens. Anyway, I needed a bit of help for the next couple of beers so my buddies Jason G. (assistant brewer at Firehouse Brewery & Grill) and Andy L. (from Grateful Hubby) decided to join me. Mrs. BetterBeerBlog chipped in as well.
"On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…"
4 Calling Birds, The Bruery, 11% ABV
The Bruery is a well regarded brewery out of Placentia, California. 4 Calling Birds is the 4th (predictably) beer in their "12 Days of Christmas" themed Christmas beer series. Unlike Karl Strauss Brewing, The Bruery is keeping in adherence to the Christmas carol.
Very dark brown beer with ruby highlights, relatively clear, head is brown in color. Aroma is spice-filled, with a hint of anise and ginger, and a light touch of roast. Flavor is malty, with a surprising sweetness, molasses notes, and some roastiness. Hop flavor is low, hop bitterness is medium hop bitterness. The body is medium-full/medium with medium-high carbonation with a slight roasty astringency. Slight alcohol warming in the throat.
Andy L: Pours dark brown with a thin tan head. Aroma of spices (anise, allspice) with eventual notes of roast and ginger. As beer warms, sweeter notes with coffee come through, and this is also the case with the taste. Slight, alcoholic heat. Very interesting and enjoyable.
Jason G: Beer pours out a a beautiful dark brown with dark reddish hues. Pours a nice tan head with a thick lacing. Roasted malts with ginger and allspice. Subtle roast flavors with a strong alcohol bite. Fruit flavors up front but alcohol soon takes over and drys out. The spices come through a lot more as the beer warms up. High alcohol gives a bit and an astringent mouthfeel that mellows out as the beer gets warmer. Overall a very interesting beer as are the first 3 in the series. Look forward to see how this beer holds up in the future.
Mrs. BetterBeerBlog: Nice brown foamy color head which dissipates but when swirled will come back to nice a foam. Very nice tiny bubbles in the head. Dark brown almost black motor oil color. Smells of cinnamon, anise, herbal, spices (we realized at the end that it was allspice and ginger). Flavors of dark chocolate and roast ed coffee. Was very dry to me and eventually dried my tongue and throat. I think that the roastiness contributes what I think is bitter that usually is from hops but it just does not taste like hop bitterness to me.
Snowball Saison Ale, To Øl (Proef Brouwerij Lochristi-Hijfte), 8% ABV
This is my very first experience with this brewery. I've never heard of them before and before I looked them up, I thought their name was "tool" but with a Nordic slash (because it's soo metal). My Danish is pretty shoddy but I think the brewery translates into "Two Beer". This beer is a saison, which is a big contrast from the bigger and maltier beers we've reviewed so far.
Very slightly hazy, dark gold color with a fluffy, off-white head. Aroma is a mélange of floral, fruity earthy and perfumy alcohol notes. This is a beer I can smell all day. The flavor is slightly sweet, pils malt-like, with a very light peppery note, some orange-citrus character. Hop flavor is floral and hop bitterness is medium. Body is medium with high carbonation and a dry finish. This is a very nice beer. Well balanced, light for its size, and surprisingly refreshing.
Andy L: Pours a golden hue with an off-white head. Aroma of happy hoppiness – orange, grapefruit, rose petals. Taste echoes the aroma with a more pronounced floral accent. Can feel a high carbonation, yet it is balanced with a refreshing taste that can certainly be greatly enjoyed year round.
Jason G: Pours a hazy gold color with a thick white head with a nice thick lacing. Hops are front and center with nice grapefruit aromas and a bit of earthiness. Although hop profile is very dominant the malt profile is not lost. Reminds me of a super dry hopped Pale Ale. High carbonation full bodied and balanced. Very nice change of pace compared to most of the holiday beers. I was pleasantly surprised by the hop profile but was disappointed with some of the missing traditional Saison characteristics, however I still really enjoyed this beer.
Mrs. BetterBeerBlog: Hazy, golden straw color. Grassy hop aroma with slight orange fruity marmalade aroma. Very thick light, fluffy, foamy head with tiny bubbles. Med light body with hop bitterness and flavor that does overwhelm the light malty sweetness that actually is very welcoming to this beer and I’m not a big hop girl. The bitterness does linger with the alcohol dryness. I’m missing the the estery Belgium yeastiness that I associate with Saisons, but enjoyable even for the summer.
According to the To Øl website, the brewers were pretty tired of the same old, big and malty beers and decided to brew something that would "ease your dinner, take your stomach out of the red zone and cleanse your neck" (sic). What I find interesting about this beer is that it's brewed with a combination of noble hops and American hops (Amarillo, Tettnang, Simcoe and Hallertaur), and partially fermented with Brettanomyces. I thought this was an astounding saison and welcome it to the plethora of Christmas beers.
By contrast, 4 Calling Birds is a little heavy handed with its flavor profile. There's a lot going on and while I think this is a pretty good Christmas beer, I'm interested in seeing what a couple of years will do. I'd say pick up a couple of bottles, one to try and one to save. That's what I did.